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Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair

The shoulder can perform movements in more directions and to greater extents than any other joint in our body. But because it can perform so many movements, the shoulder is vulnerable to stress and injury. Shoulder injuries are very common, especially among people who play sports that require overhead arm motions. 

Arthroscopy is a procedure that orthopaedic surgeons use to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint.

The word arthroscopy comes from two Greek words, “arthro” (joint) and “skopein” (to look). The term literally means “to look within the joint.” During shoulder arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into your shoulder joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments.

Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery. This results in less pain for patients, and shortens the time it takes to recover and return to favorite activities.

Shoulder arthroscopy has made diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from surgery easier and faster than was once thought possible. Improvements to shoulder arthroscopy occur every year as new instruments and techniques are developed.

Arthroscopic surgery is used to treat shoulder instability, dislocation, impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tears, and some fractures.

Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Repair:

Traditionally, when a patient sustained a rotator cuff tear that required surgical repair, an incision was made over the outside of the shoulder, usually about 6-10 centimeters in length. The muscle beneath the skin was separated to expose the rotator cuff, and the rotator cuff was then inspected and repaired. This is what surgeons call an “open rotator cuff repair.”

Unfortunately, this surgical dissection causes significant pain, and can be a persistent problem even after the rotator cuff tear has healed. More recently, the incisions have become smaller and techniques have been developed to perform the entire rotator cuff repair with arthroscopic instruments; this is the “arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.”

Instead of making a larger incision and looking directly at the rotator cuff, the surgeon makes several small incisions (about 1 centimeter each) and works with small instruments while looking at the rotator cuff on a television monitor. Arthroscopic rotator cuff repairs cause minimal trauma to the tissues that surround the shoulder and the rotator cuff. Because of this patients have smaller scars and less damage to these nearby structures.

Overall, arthroscopic shoulder surgery requires a shorter length of time for recovery than open joint surgery. It also has a reduced risk of infection and causes less pain and stiffness because only small incisions are used and less surrounding tissue is affected or exposed. Most individuals achieve good results. Please speak to your Orthopaedic Care physician to see if arthroscopic surgery is the appropriate surgical option for you.